by Joan Tupponce
Pamela Barefoot was shocked when she learned her company, Blue Crab Bay, recently won the Chairman’s Award, part of the Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards at the Darden School of business at the University of Virginia. “I felt we were not as strong in some areas as we should have been to deserve the award, but I knew we were very strong in our resilience and commitment to the Eastern Shore of Virginia,” she says.
The Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards are given each year to companies that “demonstrate sustained economic vitality in communities facing challenging economic conditions.” Tayloe Murphy Jr., chairman of the judging committee, says Barefoot’s company showed resilience in regard to its rural, remote location, participation in community affairs and efforts to promote the welfare of its employees. (The Tayloe Murphy center at Darden is named after Murphy’s father, who served as a legislator and state treasurer.)
Barefoot started Blue Crab Bay at her kitchen table in 1985. She now runs the company from 24,000-square-foot facility in Melfa on the Eastern Shore. Along the way, the business survived a fire and a hurricane. Barefoot was named Virginia’s Small Business Person of the Year in 1999, and the U.S. Small Business Administration tapped her as one of the nation’s Outstanding Women Entrepreneurs in 2003.
One of her toughest challenges has been the Great Recession. “We tightened our belts for what we hoped would be a short ride but, of course, it was not,” says Barefoot. “Everyone voluntarily took pay cuts. We kept the hallway lights off and worked four-day workweeks to save money. Everyone’s morale remained high.”
Surviving 26 years in business in a rural area has been a challenge, she adds. “Receiving the award was a moment to savor. It gives all of our employees even more reason to stay resilient.” The company has 18 employees.
Her company sells a variety of coastal themed products, including her Sting Ray Spicy Bloody Mary Mixer with Ocean Clam Juice, snacks, seasonings, seafood dip kits and fishnet-wrapped gift packs.
Barefoot frequently mentors other small businesses on the Eastern Shore and works with local chambers of commerce, economic development groups and organizations such as the YMCA Camp Silver Beach. This year Blue Crab forged strong relationships with Northampton County, its chamber and several private businesses. “The result was a grant from Virginia Tourism for the lower Shore to market its offerings to the greater Tidewater area,” Barefoot says. “We will be working to form a similar cooperative team in Accomack County later this year.”
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